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Teaching by Experience

“Learning outside the classroom is still incredibly important,” says educator Alwyn Poole, “and the Bay of Islands represents the heart of New Zealand’s first contact and establishment as a bi-cultural nation. Every young Kiwi should have the opportunity to experience it.”

“Learning outside the classroom is still incredibly important,” says educator Alwyn Poole, “and the Bay of Islands represents the heart of New Zealand’s first contact and establishment as a bi-cultural nation. Every young Kiwi should have the opportunity to experience it.”

 

With that in mind, Alwyn, along with wife Karen, have founded Bay Light, a Bay of Islands-based exploration centre designed mainly for school camps but also available for the likes of corporate events, church groups, weddings and other celebrations. The couple are no strangers to such educational projects, having already established Innovative Education Consultants, as well as the Villa Education Trust, which operates three Auckland middle schools. 

 

“The trust has always aimed to provide remarkable experiences and learning for a core group of young people,” says Alwyn, “while the consultancy company allows us to do things that are little bit different—activities that are more adventurous than what’s usually offered by schools. We are also the sole New Zealand licensee for the online language platform Rosetta Stone, because we believe every child should learn at least two languages.”

 

Bay Light aims to further inspire kids to learn more about the history and geography of their nation by means of its spectacular setting and access to significant cultural sites. Five purpose-built chalets just outside Russell can house 10-60 students, usually for a period of up to a week.

 

“You can learn theoretically inside the classroom, or you can head to the beautiful Bay of Islands, and stay in a place that overlooks the highest point, with mind-boggling scenery,” says Alwyn. “You can head across to the Waitangi Grounds, visit Pompallier House, tour the islands by boat catching sight of dolphins, rays and orca, and visit New Zealand’s oldest archaeological site. Such experiences will stick with the kids for life.”

 

Further activities include museum trips, bush walks, fishing, kayaking and mountain biking. I ask Alwyn if he’s concerned that this generation of kids doesn’t get outside enough. 

 

“We’ve taken children from the Village Education Trust up to Russell for the last 18 years. Twenty-two of them had never even been across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, so it’s really important for them, and if we can get the teachers and parents to tag along, it really enhances the wonderful experience.”

 

The centre, which took nearly two years to plan, opened just a few months ago and has even already received a booking from a school in Hawaii. They’re also in the process of building a state-of-the-art night sky viewing platform replete with high-end binoculars and telescopes and webcam that allows it to be accessed from anywhere in the world.

 

“Another thing we’re excited about developing is a 60-seat amphitheatre that means you can watch movies with Bluetooth headphones without upsetting the neighbours!” says Alwyn. “We see it as a legacy opportunity, to put something in place which at least 40 schools a year can experience.” 

 

The project is partnered with Explore Group for the boat tours, and Omata Estate for “semi-formal dinner”. “Then what we’ve done with the local community is sourced at least 10 activities like beach swimming, the Waitangi bike park, and fish and chip night. So, a school group can say that they’re going to be here for four or five nights, and this is what we want to do in the morning in terms of learning, and these are the activities that we wish to do later.”

 

For the trust, Alwyn has even managed to snag some revered sporting personalities as patrons, such as “New Zealand’s greatest living athlete, Peter Snell”, winner of three Olympic golds.

 

“Yesterday we toured our schools with triathlete Ryan Sissons who has already competed in a two Olympic Games,” says Alwyn. “He was born in Zimbabwe and came here as a 12-year-old, and, as a trust we sponsor him to bring aspiration into our community. He’s in his 30s now, still going, and certainly hasn’t got rich from it but has a nice story to tell. Similarly, former NRL player Paul Whatuira, who grew up in one of Wellington’s toughest suburbs, comes in and speaks really well to the kids.”

 

Another aspect of their mission is to encourage young New Zealanders, especially women, from lower income families to pursue sports scholarships at US universities. 

 

“Kids don’t necessarily remember the day to day things that they formally learnt in school,” says Alwyn. “But they do remember the stories that a remarkable teacher may have told. They do remember experiences. So, I believe that it’s particularly important to get expose children to as much outdoor environment-based experience as possible.”